Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT
Will Andersen or Hiller start in Game 5?
Apr 24, 2014, 9:01 AM EDT
“I think he likes the big stage.”
Apr 24, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT
Elsewhere, Detroit will play Boston and Colorado will face the Wild.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:59 AM EDT
The Blackhawks gave the Blues a taste of their own medicine.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:52 AM EDT
Another memorable moment for the American star.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
The NFL defensive back strategy.
Apr 23, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT
Nice gesture … bad sign?
Apr 23, 2014, 11:04 PM EDT
Nick Foligno called his goal ahead of time.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Just a nightmarish evening for Anaheim.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:39 PM EDT
Is history repeating itself?
Apr 23, 2014, 10:12 PM EDT
Pittsburgh once again can’t hold a team to less than three goals.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Many wonder why he played the puck.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
He was hurt on Saturday.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:27 PM EDT
We ask, you answer.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
He was punished for a knee-on-knee hit to Colorado’s Tyson Barrie.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:37 PM EDT
Chicago is trying to even the series.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
But Pittsburgh’s lead is far from secure.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:47 PM EDT
He was second in the regular season scoring race.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:33 PM EDT
San Jose will go for the sweep on Thursday.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
Nick Schultz took his place.
- Kane’s OT goal ties Blackhawks – Blues series at 2-2 19
- Stars chase Andersen, tie series with Ducks 2-2 18
- Penguins blow three-goal lead, Columbus evens series 80
- NHL suspends Matt Cooke for seven games 96
- Ducks’ Getzlaf (upper body) isn’t available for Game 4 (Updated) 3
- Two years after winning the Cup, the Kings’ ‘mix’ comes into question 39
- Duck drama: Selanne to sit as healthy scratch in Game 4 15
- MacKinnon, Johnson and Palat named Calder Trophy finalists 12
- Sharks beat Kings in OT, take 3-0 stranglehold on series 43
- Rangers chase Emery, top Flyers for 2-1 series lead 56
- Video: Seabrook ejected for charging Backes; will face hearing (update) (153)
- Bad luck strikes twice: Lightning goal waved off, Stamkos takes knee to head (137)
- Keith doesn’t remember if he taunted Backes after Seabrook hit (125)
- Video: Lucic spears DeKeyser from behind (118)
- Flyers want to ‘punish’ McDonagh (113)